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Fiction

2019

‘That August Song’ in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. For ages uncounted, humanity is defended from the monsters of sea by pilot-priests, who combat them within the living weapons known as vanquishers. Mecha fantasy.

‘Where Machines Run with Gold’ in The Future Fire. A soldier takes on a beheading dare and comes to meet her agreed-upon sentence in a small, strange city. Space opera Sir Gawain and the Green Knight retelling, takes place in the same universe as And Shall Machines Surrender.

‘Then Will the Sun Rise Alabaster’. On a remote planet, a convent harbors a deadly secret buried beneath quiet violence–a secret that the woman known only as the Alabaster Admiral will obtain at any cost. A story from the perspective of a young woman forced into religion by violent imperialism. Takes place after ‘Where Machines Run With Gold’ but before And Shall Machines Surrender.

‘Tiger, Tiger Bright’ in The Dark Magazine. A woman in contemporary Bangkok harbors a lifelong curse. A woman who calls herself a tiger offers help.

2018

‘The Five Secret Truths of Demonkind‘ in Big Echo. The earth is cursed; humans are doomed to become monsters. A demon breaches virtue’s fortress in search of God.

‘Red as Water, White as Ruin’ in Mythic Delirium. An expedition journeys to a land devastated by an unknown apocalypse, navigating an impossible curse and an impossible survivor. Secondary-world horror/dark fantasy.

‘The Owls of Juttshatan’. On a cold world of slow-moving terns, a child grows in the shadow of her mother the war hero. She is a creature of peace, raised in quiet among maps and dreams and owls. But she can be more, if she chooses. A space opera novelette of brutal bildungsroman. Prequel to ‘Autodidact’

2017

‘You and I Shall be as Radiant’. Hu Feilin is a survivor of genocide, one of the last of her world. She knows of only one other, her sister Hu Liyan, a child selected by the tyrants for military training. To get Liyan back, Feilin will overcome anything: ancient ghosts, a genocidal army—or her own sister’s wish.

‘After-Swarm’. In the far future, soldiers are sent to fight a proxy war on a distant planet to solve the question: who owns Earth? But with the war resolved, soldiers no longer have a use. Emilia, once valued for her machine affinity, must return to the life she left behind and face a world ordered anew.

‘No Pearls as Blue as These’ in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Bidaten is a bulwark, one of those bred as living weapons to fight horrors from beyond the high, vast walls that keep humanity safe from monsters. Duty is all she knows until her lord brings home a beautiful foreign bride.

‘Fade to Gold’ in Pseudopod (audio reprint). Narrated by Jen Zink.

‘The Universe as Vast as Our Longings’ in The Jewish Mexican Literary Review. In a far future, a country of tyrants conquers a world and takes in its children to raise as willing collaborators. When all you have is nothing, living itself is resistance. 6,200 words.

‘The Sun Shall Lie Across Us Like Gold’ in Clockwork Cairo (ed. Matthew Bright, Twopenny Press). Post-colonial steampunk in 19th century Thailand. Sequel to ‘The Governess and We’. 3,500 words.

‘Parable of the Cocoon’ in Big Echo. When the aliens came it was not to invade, but to uplift humanity for the purposes of an inscrutable war. Human subjects are selected for alien communion, given to perceive time in parallax… or perhaps something else entirely. 5,800 words.

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Recent reads: MY DARK VANESSA, THORN

Out of curiosity I picked up My Dark Vanessa and ended up not finishing it. Not because it’s just so problematic but because it feels like an airport novel. It’s neither shocking nor messy; it’s just tedious and predictable.

I can see why this got a huge book deal in that it’s exactly the kind of book people who don’t read books would pick up (which explains why it has a Stephen King blurb). A film option’s bound to happen at some point, starring a petite white actress who’s indistinguishable from the other white actresses.

Thorn by [Anna Burke]

This one surprised me a lot because I didn’t expect to get past the protagonist being a teenager (she’s probably 17?). I liked it much, much better than Compass Rose.

They say the Huntress rides out when the sun is at its farthest and Winter has her jaws buried deep in the heart of the warm, green world. In the mountain valleys, they swear you can hear her hounds on the knife’s edge of the wind, howling down the peaks in a spray of teeth. The Huntress rides behind them mounted on a great white bear with a horn of silver and bone at her lips and a spear cut from the living heart of a mountain pine at her side. No beast can stand before her charge, and every northern child knows that the Huntress stalks the snows, looking for the lost, the unwary, and the bold alike.

A lesbian retelling of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ set in a wintry mountain. Off the bat it’s much better than the Disney take, because whereas Disney’s Belle is a cishet girl whose ‘difference’ is that she reads books, Thorn‘s Rowan is well… a lesbian. Unlike Compass Rose this isn’t set in a queer-normative world, so unfortunately for her being a lesbian carries real cost of persecution, especially since her father wants to marry her off to a boy. I’m not a fan of this kind of setup usually, but here it more or less works because the specter of comphet doesn’t loom too closely as Rowan spends most of the book in the Huntress’ castle. You can really tell it’s written by a lesbian because the ‘Beast’ is a beautiful ice domme in hunting leathers who rides a huge bear. The love story is excellent, the prose is pretty great, and though the beginning runs a bit slow as a whole this is one of the better fairytale retellings out there. Dramatic, gorgeous imagery, and paced just right.

Ghost in the Shell Watch Guide

Ghost in the Shell used to be my favorite cyberpunk thing before Psycho-Pass came along. I think for me Psycho-Pass, which is a piece of media heavily in conversation with GITS (there is a homage to it in one OP, where Akane is shown falling backward from a building), just goes both deeper and broader than its spiritual predecessor. Still, GITS is pretty good. It’s also… I think there are three different continuities by now? I mean, it’s an enormous clusterfuck. The quality varies widely since completely different teams of writers are at the helm of each of these things. In some cases even the Major’s voice actor changes. The tones are also pretty different.

Content warnings are going to be sparse because it’s been ages and I haven’t recently rewatched. Sorry. I don’t recall much (if any) sexual assault. Also while allegedly in the manga the Major is probably bisexual, this is never really demonstrated in any of the anime adaptations.

Watch Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence Movie Sub & Dub | Action ...

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Psycho-Pass Watch Order

I shill Psycho-Pass a lot. Like… a lot a lot. It remains my absolute favorite media franchise ever because it does so much. The only way it could be more custom-tailored for me is if all the protagonists were lesbians. The main conceit is that in future Japan, a system understood to be a machine network measures people’s character and psychological tendencies, and their ‘Hue’ determines their social standing (as well as job prospects) while their potential to commit criminal acts is summarized as the ‘Crime Coefficient’. In this dystopia, people found to have a crime coefficient above a certain number can be detained or executed on the spot by the police.

On the face of it, this sounds like ham-fisted commentary on state surveillance and police brutality. In execution, it’s written fantastically and is possibly the smartest cyberpunk I’ve ever seen in any medium. It has female protagonists through two seasons and two movies, and while I wish they’d let the women be more more in combat, the women are far from incompetent and rarely subjected to sexual threat.

Psycho Pass S2 Review - YouTube

Since it began airing in 2012, it’s gotten a bit convoluted with three seasons and multiple movies that go between those seasons chronologically, so I’ve put together a watch guide. Please note that my content warnings are incomplete! This is because it’s been a reaaaally long time since I watched some of the older content and I haven’t rewatched seasons 1-2 recently.

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Recent reads: a post-post-apocalyptic lesbian adventure at sea and an alien invasion

For the most part, this book is okay and even enjoyable. The prose isn’t bad and the dialogue has a lot of verve. But there’s a weird disparity between the author’s ability to characterize (which is very good) and the author’s ability to plot (which is less good). While most of the characters in this book are fantastic and interesting, the titular protagonist is neither of those things until much later in the book, and even then she becomes interesting primarily because she’s reacting to actions taken by the interesting people around her which, again, isn’t ideal. The stakes are not very coherent until more than halfway through the book, and large chunks of the beginning feel like pure filler. The setting is very strange in that it reads like it could have been Age of Sail fantasy, but actually it’s the post-post-apocalypse future after humanity has made Earth uninhabitable and everyone lives on ships or island stations–but the tech level feels odd and uneven, to the point that I’m not sure why this takes place in this specific setting. There’s a lack of specificity to the story that makes the milieu feel like an afterthought: this book could have been space opera and nothing would have changed apart from some vocabulary, and might arguably have benefited from being either space opera or outright fantasy. For example, what’s with the protagonist’s mysterious heritage and  golden eyes that people won’t stop harping on about? Why does she have some kind of psychic/electromagnetic ability that lets her sense Earth’s cardinal points? Who knows. It’s not touched on even by the book’s end and is the only fantasy element in an otherwise science fictional setting that is, nevertheless, weirdly low-tech for what it purports to be; it feels like a leftover from a different draft and contributes to that odd YA-adjacent issue (in YA, it’s popular for the protagonist to have special parentage and special magic eyes) even though this book isn’t YA.

My reaction to the book is pretty odd as a result. I liked the romance, I liked the concentration of powerful, warlike women (everyone in power in this book is a woman, violent, experienced, and most of them are gay), the dialogue is whippy and fun and grandiose at the right places, but I skimmed a large amount of the text because large amounts of the text aren’t very compelling. This book goes on for too long, coming in at 375 pages when I reckon 200 pages would’ve done the trick. Either making the pirate captain, the admiral, or the pirate queen the protagonist would’ve improved everything significantly (especially if the pirate captain and the pirate queen furiously hate-fucks)–they’re seasoned, interesting, they have bloody history and complex motivations, and their perspective would’ve made the narrative vastly more efficient, less bogged down by the protagonist’s ignorance.

Do I recommend this book? Sure thing, because the lesbian romance is good and the majority of the characters are bloodthirsty women with complex pasts, and what made me skim large chunks of this book may be less of a slog to others. As a bonus, the author is a queer woman.

I really wanted to like this one but, throughout, I couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that this is a book written by a person who doesn’t read much SFF. Which by itself is fine, but it means that a lot of what’s done here feels incredibly dated, and very much out of touch. Then there are entire passages that go like this

He shrugged. “Like a million other people. You wouldn’t have noticed me at all.”
Trina’s eyes grew big. “Hold up—were you a white guy? And you took this brown kid’s face?”
Horizon raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
“You didn’t! Horizon!” She looked around, almost expecting there to be hidden cameras in the bushes, as if this were all some retro prank. “You can’t—you can’t take other people’s faces, their races, and wear them like—like a suit!”
“Oh, race is a construction,” he said, waving his hand. “Everyone knows that.”
“That might be, but it’s still meaningful. Constructs mean things.”

[…]

He shrugged again. “Well, you can feel however you want about it, obviously.”
“Horizon, listen to me. You’re being so color-blind it’s racist!”
He looked stung, as if she had struck him. “I can’t believe you would use that word on me. How long have you known me?”

I mean, ok. It’s… well, it’s nails on chalkboard, isn’t it. I’m not one to complain that real people don’t talk like this but the problem is that the author hasn’t convinced me these people, given their context, would talk like this. It’s not an isolated thing–characters talk like this a lot (‘Nice try. I’m not about to let you oppress me with your systems of heteronormativity, stud’). Check out this positive review from Publisher’s Weekly.

Trina shakes her subsequent alcoholic depression just long enough to take on a “vengeful quest” to confront a former friend whom she fought with years before over identity politics, and to save a lost boy from the effects of the Seep.

‘Identity politics’ indeed.

So, assuming that maybe the reader isn’t supposed to take any of these conversations seriously (‘You can’t use other people for your own purposes any longer. This stops now!’), what are we left with? We’re left with a mildly interesting premise that sounds better in marketing copy than in execution, and which glowing reviews have compared to Ursula le Guin and Sheri Tepper. Which is probably accurate in the sense that I’m not sure the author has read science fiction any more recent than those, because the stilted style also reminds me of older fiction, to say nothing of the ideas explored which–as said–are pretty dated. Societal order collapses and utopia rises from it; people are joined in alien hivemind; everyone has total freedom to act and eating meat is painful because humans are joined to the pain of everything so most people are vegans now (really?). I think for this book to work, there needs to be a strong emotional core and in this case it just isn’t there, or what’s there doesn’t work for me.

As a whole, this book contains barely enough substance to fill a short story (30 pages, tops), let alone the 216 pages it occupies in hardback. Which is a shame, because as a short story it could’ve been decent.

NEW BOOK! Machine’s Last Testament is now up for pre-order

machines last testament 4b (1)

Excuse my excitement. My new book, my first full-length novel ever, is up for pre-order. (Yes, other retailers will be up eventually; yes there will be a paperback edition.)

It’s a really long book for me, meaning nearly three times the length of anything I’ve had published previously. The cover art is created from scratch, by Rashed (who’s also the artist for the cover of And Shall Machines Surrender), which makes me feel very grown-up. Having a woman on the cover who looks like this was a huge priority for me, and the artist went above and beyond. Stern. Sharp. Glaring. Menacingly martial, but in a way that appeals to lesbians.

To give humanity peace, the artificial intelligence Samsara will wage an eternal war…

In a universe torn by combat, Samsara’s world is the final haven that refugees will pay any price to enter. At the Selection Bureau, Suzhen Tang upholds the AI’s will and grants citizenship to those deemed worthy. When she meets new arrival Ovuha, she judges Ovuha a model candidate⁠—educated, beautiful, a perfect fit for utopia.

But Ovuha carries with her the seeds of battle, and what she brings may spell apocalyptic change: the breaking of Samsara, the end of paradise.

This is a cyberpunk dystopia in the fashion of Psycho-Pass, and I pitch the book as that meet Ian M. Banks’ Culture novels, though of course my book has considerably more lesbians than either title.

Oh man, I can’t believe I wrote a book this long, but anyway if you’ve always thought you wanted a really long book from me this is it: long, about 400 pages in paperback. And here’s the AO3-style tags!

  • mutual pining deluxe
  • slow-burn
  • love in the time of psycho-pass
  • ruthless lesbians who only soften for ONE woman
  • polyam F/F/NB
  • sexually charged hand contact
  • meaningful cooking
  • childhood friends to gay
  • the AI just wants you to be happy
  • the specter of war and the brutality of systems
  • lots of trauma and lots of healing

It also has a lot of AIs. They’re just my favorite science fiction thing. You thought I’d gotten AIs out of my system with And Shall Machines Surrender? Hah! Think again.

Ungendering language in Her Pitiless Command, and some world-building notes

Now that Mirrorstrike is out, I feel I can now talk a bit about this without it coming off as pulling a Rowling (i.e. go on twitter and retcon in some stupid bullshit that you never put in the actual books). This post contains spoilers for Winterglass, a few non-spoiler notes from Mirrorstrike, and references to the prequel novelette ‘That Rough-Hewn Sun’, contained in Methods Devour Themselves, which chronicles the first time Lussadh meets the Winter Queen.

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Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Jojo Rabbit (2019, dir. Taika Waititi) is marketed as… a comedy? But it’s not really a comedy: it’s a feel-good movie that happens to, erm, humanize a handful of nazi officers. Which is a bit uncomfortable but, more than that, the movie feels–I don’t want to say cynical: I get the impression that Waititi’s intent is probably pure (probably!), but if you’ve watched this kind of thing before (without the nazi Germany trappings) then a lot of the movie’s beats will feel incredibly conventional.

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